As we age we all become more vulnerable to certain health conditions but there are plenty of natural ways to prevent them so you can live your life to the full. Whatever your age the following natural well being plan will help you control some of the most common age related problems.
You may find that you are getting more premenstrual symptoms like mood swings, irritability, anxiety, tension, breast tenderness and food cravings. If you want to eliminate PMS, the most important thing you can do is to balance your blood sugar. This means cutting out refined sugar and refined carbohydrates, eliminating alcohol and eating six small meals a day (including three healthy snacks, such as a handful of nuts), always with a little protein, to keep your energy levels stable. This can also help to balance your hormones generally especially if you are getting irregular cycles.
The following herbal combination helps to balance hormones and ease symptoms of PMS – agnus castus, black cohosh and skullcap (a good one is NHP’s Agnus Castus Support from your local health food shop or go to www.naturalhealthpractice.com).
You may be thinking about having a baby and the timing has not been right or you may not have met the person you would like to have a family with. But you want to make sure that you are doing everything you can to keep yourself as healthy and fertile as possible.
The amount of eggs you have is set and can’t be altered because the store was established in your body since before you were born but by following my fertility boosting plan you can take control over the quality of those eggs.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect fertility is to eat a healthy diet. Then think about toxins coming in. So quit smoking as it makes your eggs age faster and increases the risk of miscarriage and drink less alcohol as this can affect your fertility. Think about taking a good fertility boosting multivitamin and mineral that contains good levels of zinc (the most important mineral for fertility), folic acid, antioxidants like selenium, beta-carotene and vitamin E (to keep your eggs as healthy as possible) and other nutrients like manganese and the B vitamins. According to researchers a good-quality, specially formulated fertility multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may double your chances of getting pregnant and help you produce better quality eggs. (the ones I use in the clinic are called Fertility Support for Women and Fertility Support for Men and are available from the local health food shops).
Sleeplessness is more likely to occur in your 40s when the hormonal changes of the menopause approach and this can increase your risk of stress, anxiety and fatigue. Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise studies have shown that a quality night’s sleep is essential for weight management, hormone balance and good health in general.
To encourage a good night’s sleep boost your calcium and magnesium intake by eating more green leafy vegetables, whole grains and nuts and seeds during the day. Calcium and magnesium work together and are often described as ‘nature’s tranquilisers.’ You may also want to try a little herbal help with valerian, which along with passion flower and hops, is known for its sleep inducing and calming qualities.
Try to get at least 30 minutes exercise in the fresh air as natural daylight and activity can result in 50 percent improvement in sleep patterns. It can also help to make sure your bedtime routine is relaxing. Have a warm bath with aromatherapy oils to wind down and avoid drinking caffeine during the afternoon and evening. Don’t take your worries to bed. Make a list of things you need to think about tomorrow. If you still can’t get to sleep don’t lie there tossing and turning and clock watching – get up and do something relaxing such as listening to calming music, until you feel sleepy.
Lack of energy
Many women over the age of 45 say they suffer from tiredness and as you enter your 40s you may start to find your energy levels dropping. As we age, metabolic and physiological changes can impact on your body’s energy levels, causing fatigue but this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. With the right diet and exercise plan and a positive mind set many women in their 40s and beyond feel more energetic than ever.
The most important things you can do is to exercise more and cut down on caffeine and sugar. Regular exercise is essential for keeping your energy levels up. Caffeine and sugar may give you an instant hit but they’ll leave you feeling tired and depleted in the long run. A healthy, balanced diet is crucial as nutritional deficiencies can trigger fatigue and you could also benefit from supplementing with a daily multivitamin and mineral, especially one that contains vitamin B12 which is known to boost energy. Choose a good multivitamin and mineral that is designed for leading up to and through the menopause. Herb wise, ginseng is the ultimate energy booster. Several trials have shown it to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of low energy but for women it is better to use Siberian ginseng rather than any other kind of ginseng otherwise the effects can be too strong and some women found they were having palpitations.
During your 40s you are most likely to experience the symptoms of peri-menopause. This occurs when your ovaries have reduced egg supply and they gradually cease to produce the female hormone oestrogen. Perimenopause can occur as early as five to ten years before the actual menopause, which is most likely to occur in your early 50s. The symptoms of perimenopause can include irregular periods, hot flushes, mood swings, weight gain and insomnia.
If you’re experiencing hot flushes, avoid clothes made from synthetic fabrics and wear layers instead to keep warm. Use bedclothes made from cotton and layers rather than a big duvet. And watch what you eat and drink. A hot drink before bedtime can often trigger night sweats or make them worse. Other triggers include caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. And although it may make you feel hotter and sweatier in the short term women who exercise regularly seem to have fewer flushes.
There are a number of natural therapies to choose from if you are in the early stages of peri-menopause. Phytoestrogens are hormone like substances that act like a weaker version of oestrogen and can help balance fluctuating hormones. They are present in foods like soya, legumes and flaxseeds. The herb sage is known to be helpful at the menopause and black cohosh has shown to be effective for the hot flushes and night sweats. The ancient Chinese herb dong quai can also help balance hormones. (for more information on what to eat around the menopause see my new book Natural Solutions to Menopause).
High blood pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is becoming increasingly common with age and after the menopause women no longer have the protective effect of oestrogen. It is estimated that as many as one in four women over the age of 50 may have high blood pressure and if it is not controlled it can put incredible strain on your heart and arteries and increase your risk of stroke and diabetes. Symptoms include frequent headaches, dizziness or blurred vision, but worryingly it can often manifest without symptoms.
To reduce your risk of age related high blood pressure, cut down on your salt intake. Eating too much salt can send blood pressure soaring. The recommended maximum intake of salt per day is 6 grams so try replacing salt in cooking with herbs and spices for seasoning. And take note of hidden salt in foods – the British Heart Association estimates that three quarters of the salt we eat may come from processed foods and even basic foods such as white bread and cereals contain salt so be sure to read food labels carefully.
Taking regular exercise will lower your blood pressure and will also help you to lose weight but you should also be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day are a must. You should steer clear of saturated fats, added sugar and refined foods as these can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood; the higher your cholesterol the greater your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Potassium intake can also help lower blood pressure – foods rich in this mineral include dried apricots, pulses and nuts. And the minerals magnesium (found in brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and soya beans) and calcium (found in dairy products and green leafy vegetables) have also been shown to lower blood pressure. The herb ginger has traditionally been used to help lower blood pressure. Garlic is also recommended for general heart health. You take both ginger and garlic in supplement form if you think you cannot get enough with your food. Co-enzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance contained in nearly every cell of your body. It is important for energy production and normal carbohydrate metabolism. Deficiency in co-enzyme Q10 can occur with ageing. In one randomised double-blind trial patients with high blood pressure who were taking blood pressure medication were given co-enzyme Q10. On the Q10 they had lower blood pressure and their HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) increased.
As many as one in two women will develop osteoporosis over the age of 50, because loss of bone density speeds up after the menopause as oestrogen levels decline. Many women aren’t aware that their bones are thinning dangerously until they get a broken bone after a minor bump or fall. But the good news is that osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated with natural therapies if detected early enough.
The first step is to give up smoking and to avoid passive smoking as both these can have a weakening effect on the bones. It is also vital to make sure that you don’t drink more than 10 units of alcohol a week, as alcohol depletes your body of bone building nutrients. Calcium is bone food and it is found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, beans and dried fruit. You can also take it in supplement form, usually in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, which helps aid its absorption. Regular weight bearing exercise such as brisk walking, aerobics and jogging helps to strength bones and you should aim for at least five sessions a week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
As you age your body’s ability to deal with glucose (energy from food) declines and this decline increases your risk of diabetes. As many as eight out of ten people with diabetes are overweight, so eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep your weight down. Studies have shown that women who exercise for 30 minutes a day and eat a diet low in trans fats which are often found in processed foods where the vegetable oil has been hydrogenated and high in fibre, found in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, reduce their risk of diabetes by up to 90 percent. So eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, brown rice and pasta and choose good quality oils such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
Diverticular disease and IBS
After the age of 60, diverticular disease which is an inflammation of the intestines, is increasing common, although many people don’t realise that they have it. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting. IBS or irritable bowel syndrome has similar symptoms. The exact cause isn’t known but it is thought that stress and anxiety can be triggers.
Avoid large meals, spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, increasing fibre intake and drinking plenty of water can all help. Relaxation is also especially important. Certain supplements may also help keep your digestive system healthy and these include peppermint oil, which has an anti-spasmodic effect; artichoke extract which can reduce symptoms of bloating and probiotics which can replace healthy bacteria in the colon and ease digestive problems.
If you are experiencing any changes in your bowel motions, then it is important to see your doctor for a check up.
Your risk of developing arthritis increases as you get older because arthritis is a wear and tear disease. Millions of people suffer from arthritis in the UK and the majority of them are over the age of 60 but it is not inevitable.
It is important to keep as flexible and mobile as possible so gentle exercise, such as swimming is recommended. You should also keep pressure off your joints. As always, a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables and omega 3, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, is essential for healthy joints.
Omega 3 fish oils have an anti-inflammatory effect and can sometimes work as well as prescription drugs to ease pain. Ginger has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and glucosamine is an amino acid found naturally in your body’s cartilage that may help with joint repair.
Adding the spice turmeric to food can also be extremely helpful for joint pains. Apple cider vinegar is also often recommended for arthritis as contrary to what one think it actually helps the body to be more alkaline so reducing inflammation.